Many thanks to 2am Optimism for kindly beta reading this.
The rungs of the ladder were cool and hard against Sheppard's hands; hands that never rested against the metal for long enough to warm it. He'd been climbing for ten minutes now, and he was breathing noisily, taking harsh gulps of the dank, clammy air.
He hooked his arm firmly around the side of the ladder and paused for a moment. "You okay, Ford?"
Ahead of him, enough rungs between them that if Ford stopped, Sheppard would have time to stop, too, Ford gasped out something that Sheppard hoped was a 'yes'. He squinted up and blinked.
The shaft they were doggedly climbing was lit at intervals by some form of everlasting light bulb; well, not quite everlasting, as every third or fourth had burned out, and those left were a dim yellow, but as McKay had estimated that the last people on this planet had left four hundred years before, Sheppard was still impressed. He intended to take one with him for the Atlantis scientists to study if he could prise one out close to the surface.
Assuming he and Ford made it to the top, that was.
The last time he'd paused and looked up, Ford had been a vague, shifting shape in the darkness; now, with Sheppard's eyes more accustomed to the lack of light, and a lit bulb right by Ford's waist, Sheppard could see him clearly.
It was an odd view from this angle: Ford's head and shoulders weren't really visible, but Sheppard could still see more of him than usual.
The man's pants were torn, a flap of material hanging down, exposing one rounded cheek, the brown skin suffused with gold from the glow of the light.
Sheppard could guess when Ford's pants must have ripped; in their fall through a hole in the floor, camouflaged by centuries of dust and debris. He'd been too busy cursing the fact that they'd been unable to climb back up and return to the surface by the still-working elevator to pay attention to anything less than broken bones at the time. Though if he'd realised just how much Ford's pants had torn maybe he wouldn't have led the way through the corridors to the emergency shaft...
Of course, just walking behind Ford, the view wouldn't have been quite this spectacular.
Lost in fatigue -- they'd been walking for what felt like hours through dusty passageways, bent double in places before they began the arduous climb -- Ford probably didn't even realise how the tear had widened and much of his ass was bare.
Which wasn't as much as Sheppard wanted to see. Forget half a loaf; half of Ford's ass wasn't enough. He wanted all of it on view, muscles flexing as Ford moved, smooth skin dappled by the light, the shadowed cleft split open with each upward step --
Ford began to climb again, raising his foot to the next rung, and the material pulled tight and slipped sideways, giving Sheppard a fleeting, snatched glimpse of Ford's balls.
Or maybe it was just a shadow.
Fuck. Sheppard took a shuddered breath, shook his head, and began to climb again, resolutely not looking up.
Didn't mean he wasn't thinking about it, though.
What Ford's skin would feel like there, for a start; looked so smooth, but the muscles were packed under it and it wouldn't feel soft, not really. Solid, and giving just a little under the pressure of Sheppard's fingers as they dug in; yeah, that was more likely. Sheppard's fingers would have to delve deeper to find softness, to touch hidden, hot, damp skin, dusted over with fine hair, skin even his calloused fingers could tell was different in texture.
Sheppard's grip loosened on a rung and then clamped down tightly as his foot slipped. Oh, fuck.
"Sir? You okay?"
"Keep moving, Lieutenant."
Ford always said that with a grin undercutting the respect. Sheppard didn't mind that he was unremittingly cheerful; the man did his job, none better, and Ford had never let him down, but he'd like to see him serious some time.
No, he'd like to see him naked. And sweaty, and maybe begging, just a little, dark eyes wide, mouth wet where his tongue was licking at it frantically as he babbled out pleas for Sheppard to do him harder, faster, again...
Sheppard's boot skidded on a piece of mud clinging to a rung, most probably left behind from Ford's boot, and he gritted his teeth. He couldn't go on like this. They had to work together, dammit, and if he'd managed -- just -- to keep any of his interest in Ford from showing, well, that was good, but it was getting trickier. Every flashing smile he responded to with a twitch of his lips, every friendly comment he cut off with a grunt... Ford was starting to look confused, even hurt, the easy camaraderie of their first months in Atlantis giving way to a tension Sheppard wasn't able to explain or prevent from rising.
Maybe he could reassign him... no, Elizabeth would ask questions. Lots of questions. And it wouldn't look good on Ford's record, and that wasn't fair.
He'd have to just do what he was doing but do it better. No more sitting next to Ford on a crowded couch, McKay's acerbic commentary on a movie covering Sheppard's careful breathing when Ford's knee nudged his. No more flying the puddle-jumper slowly back to the city after a trip to the mainland so that he could see Ford stare, wide-eyed and appreciative, at an alien sunset. He got such a damn kick out of being here... Sheppard did, too, yeah, sure he did... but it took Ford's enthusiasm to allow him to forget the Wraith, just for the time it took for the sun to slip behind, no, beneath, hands slipping under -- oh, God....
No, he couldn't go on like this.
And then daylight, late evening, sun-setting light, but still a dazzle to their eyes, was pouring down the hole over them and Sheppard looked up one last time at Ford's ass and stared until he could see it when he closed his eyes, captured and safe.
They scrambled up and collapsed on the short, wiry grass of a small clearing, shadows painting wavering stripes on the green.
"That -- that was not fun," Sheppard managed, clawing for his water bottle and waiting to see that Ford still had some left in his canteen before he drank deeply. He reached down into the shaft before he forgot, and tugged at the topmost light bulb, getting it free after he'd mastered the push in and twist required. It carried on glowing as he tucked it into his pocket, solid and heavy but cool to the touch.
"With you on that one, sir," Ford replied, rubbing the heel of his hand across his forehead and bringing it away damp. He rolled to his back and then gasped at what Sheppard guessed was the feel of cool grass hitting his bare ass. "Damn."
"Uh, kind of, sir." Ford swallowed. "That is -- not a big problem --"
Sheppard let him off the hook.
"You always go commando?"
A flush built up on Ford's face but he relaxed a little. "Well, I, ah, we've been pretty busy this week and I didn't get chance to do any laundry. No clean shorts, sir."
"Glad to see you've got such high standards," Sheppard told him solemnly.
Ford grinned. "If I put on a pair I'd worn before, I think my grandmother would reach over from Earth and smack my head."
Sheppard got up. "Sounds like a fine woman." He held out his hand. "Up you get."
Ford's fingers wrapped around his, warm and tight. "Thanks, sir."
Sheppard squinted at the clearing. "Stargate's back thataway. Let's move out." He thumbed on his radio, which for some reason hadn't worked underground, emitting a static-heavy buzz whenever they'd tried. Now he got a relieved, and therefore sarcastic, McKay on the other end, talking twice as fast as Sheppard could deal with. He broke in after a moment.
"Relax, McKay, we're fine. Call in the rescue team and head back to Atlantis; we'll make our way to the 'gate as soon as we can. ETA thirty minutes or so. Sheppard out." He jerked his head at Ford. "Come on."
"Yes, sir." Ford hesitated. "Uh, do you want to go first, sir?"
Sheppard gave him a sunny smile. "Nope. Take point, Lieutenant."
Ford glared at him, but his mouth curved in an answering smile a moment later and Sheppard could swear the man was putting a wiggle in his walk.
Sheppard didn't hold grudges, not exactly, but he was a believer in payback, and there was something he'd never really dealt with to his satisfaction...
"Do you remember when we came through the 'gate to Atlantis? What you said to me?"
"Huh? Oh -- yeah. You were wondering what it felt like going through and I said it --"
Sheppard's hand cracked hard against the tempting bare skin in front of him. Ford cried out, spun around, and stared at him, his mouth hanging open.
"Yes?" Sheppard drawled, his heart hammering because the skin had leapt under his hand, just as solid and warm as he'd imagined it.
"I said... it hurts like hell, sir," Ford said slowly, stumbling over the words. "Sir -- that was -- why did you -- did I do something wrong?"
"Not a damned thing," Sheppard said. "It was just -- there, you know?" He sighed, curling his hand into a loose fist, feeling his palm tingle. "Sorry. That has to be one of the stupidest things I've ever done."
"Really? Because I've heard some stories about you back on Earth..."
Ford didn't go into detail, for which Sheppard was grateful, while making a note to find out what stories, and who was telling them.
"Well, maybe on a scale of one to ten, this rates more like a..." Sheppard eyed Ford uncertainly. "A six?"
Ford snorted. "Nope."
"Eight? Come on, Ford; it's not like I'm offering to kiss it better..."
A voice in his head sing-songed a single word. Stupid...
Ford blinked at him, looking... Sheppard didn't know. Startled? Maybe. "Would you? If I asked?"
"No!" In a heartbeat. "Ford, what the hell?"
Ford glanced around. "Are we safe here?"
Sheppard shrugged, striving for some measure of composure now that Ford was all business again. As he should be. As they both should be. "No life signs when we arrived, no Wraith that we know of; yeah, I guess so. Why?"
"You think the rest of the team is close by?"
Sheppard pulled out the life signs detector and set it to its widest scanning frequency. "I can see a group of people waiting by the 'gate, and some people heading toward it. Looks like the search party, on its way back."
"And it shouldn't take thirty minutes, not if we pick it up."
"I suppose not."
Ford turned and put his hands against the trunk of a tree, wide enough that he could lean against it. He looked serious, his mouth tense but he could've been holding back a grin. Hard to tell with Ford. "Kiss it better then, sir. Feels like you took the skin off it."
"You've got to be kidding me."
Sheppard could feel his heartbeat speed up, the way it did when he was running, painfully exhilarating, telling him he was alive because when you're dead it stops hurting, right?
"Nope." Ford didn't turn around and the expected burst of laughter telling Sheppard he'd been played never came. "This way, I'm asking and it's okay. Well, not okay, but better than you doing something like that to me without asking. Do it."
"You're so far off base here, Lieutenant," Sheppard whispered, falling to his knees anyway, the evening dew seeping through the fabric, slow and unstoppable. "This isn't happening..."
"No. I'd have noticed if you were kissing my ass, sir, trust me."
For that, Sheppard bit him, getting in a satisfactory nip and getting an even more gratifying yelp in response.
"Sir, with all due respect, that's not what I'd call kissing." Ford sounded breathless.
"Relax, Ford, I'm getting to the good part..."
Some perverse impulse of self-denial stopped Sheppard from exposing any more of Ford's ass than was already on view, but he still had plenty to kiss, running his tongue around the clean, sharp mark his fingers had left and blowing cool air over the handprint until the skin shivered and roughened against his mouth.
Ford was moaning now, small, bitten-off sounds that Sheppard wanted to lap up but he couldn't move, couldn't stand --
Then Ford turned, putting his back against the tree, his gaze on Sheppard's face, his hands going down to where his cock was trying to poke a hole through his pants.
"Hey," Sheppard said, his voice hoarse in his own ears. "Didn't hit you there."
"Sir, either move or duck."
"Aren't they pretty much the same option -- whoa."
Sheppard rocked back on his heels as Ford worked his cock out and began to jerk himself off, fast and sloppy, his breath hissing through his teeth, his eyes wild.
Proverbs about sheep and lambs spun dizzily in his head as he leaned forward and put his open mouth in the perfect position. Ford's cock slid inside a moment later, hard, skin drawn taut, leaking and hot and so fucking close to --
Sheppard sucked and licked and swallowed in frantic, greedy gulps, letting the taste of it scour out the dust of tunnels and darkness. Still tasted no better than come ever did, but he didn't care.
He let Ford ease out as slowly as he liked, and then wiped his hand across his mouth. "Well, now."
Ford whimpered and slid down the tree trunk to collapse at its base, looking totally out of it.
Ford swallowed and nodded. "Oh, yeah." A blissed-out smile split his lips wide. "Better than fine." He glanced obliquely at Sheppard, his meaning clear. "How about you?"
Sheppard looked around, and then got to his feet. The sun was close to setting and he'd told them they'd be back --
"I'm good. Let's go."
Ford stood up reluctantly, brushing fragments of bark out of his short hair and zipping up his pants. "Right. Let's go."
His voice was flat enough to make Sheppard wince, and this time he'd ignored the hand Sheppard had held out to help him up.
"Have we got a problem here, Lieutenant?"
"No, sir." Ford's generous mouth was set hard, all its sweetness lost.
"Clearly we do, and as this is the only chance we'll have to discuss it in private --"
"That's just it, sir." The words burst out, bitter and raw. "It is the only chance, so I don't get why you're not taking it."
Ford gestured down, his gaze going pointedly to Sheppard's visible erection, aching like a candy-rotten tooth. "Sir, you're going to have trouble walking like that."
"I'll manage," Sheppard said, shrugging. "It'll wear off."
"Even with me in front of you?"
"From here, I'll take point." Sheppard smiled thinly. "Problem solved."
"No, it isn't." Ford took a deep breath. "Sir, permission to --"
"Oh, just say it."
"You got what you wanted just now and I didn't. I don't think that's fair."
Ford didn't sound petulant, just determined.
"It wasn't what you wanted? You didn't like it?" Sheppard wasn't sure whether to feel insulted or hurt. Okay, not the best head he'd ever given, but Ford had come so damn fast --
"What? Of course it was, and you know I did." Ford frowned, his lips jutting out in a pout. Absently, idly, Sheppard contemplated kissing it off his face and cursed as his cock throbbed eagerly at the idea. Down, boy... "But I didn't spend hours freezing my ass off to get you worked up enough to jump me --"
"Wait -- you did what?"
" -- just to come without even touching you. Seeing you." Ford's fingers tightened around the stock of his rifle. "Sir, we both know this can't fly. Any other planet, fucking around like this could get people killed, so off-world's out. And Atlantis is... well, there're places, but... not for you."
No. Not for him. Sheppard knew all the places. Had to. Part of his job. Knew which empty rooms still showed signs of being used, knew not to look too closely when the control room screen showed life signs, two usually, but sometimes more, and sometimes, quite often, one, in those unused, deserted rooms.
People never went there on duty -- they did and he'd haul their asses out, bare or not -- and people didn't talk about it. That was fine with Sheppard. This wasn't any normal posting; this was home, where most of them would live and some of them would die and part of home was a little R and R.
Just not for him, or Elizabeth.
And Ford could fuck anyone he wanted in one of those rooms, or in his own quarters, come to that, if he was careful, very, very careful, but he couldn't fuck Sheppard, couldn't suck Sheppard, couldn't be fucked, be sucked, be held, be kissed.
Sheppard stood his rifle up against a tree and slipped out of his jacket, laying it down on the thick, soft grass for them to use as a blanket.
The light bulb in the pocket dug into his back but it didn't break.
They built those things to last, whoever they were.
Sheppard got it back from Zelenka when he'd finished with it and stood it in the corner of his quarters, glowing yellow, glowing cold.
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